Aprilia are the only manufacturer on the MotoGP grid still entitled to concessions. The criteria for losing concessions is to score more than six points, (three points for a win, two for a second and one for a third) over two seasons of racing. In the shortened 2021 season, the best Aprilia could muster was 8th place at the final round in Portugal. As such, their machinery are the only one allowed to flout the engine freeze restrictions, because they are so far behind the rest of the bikes on the grid. This may seem unfair, but you only have to look at their dismal past results, their lack of ability to keep a second rider, and even their difficulty to fill the vacant seat. A poor reputation has made it hard to fill the empty seat, and with a large string of past riders who have found Aprilia to be a stumbling block, you to feel a little bit sorry for the Italian team. Kind of.
Add this the fact that they are unable to utilise the talents of Andrea Iannone, due to a
doping scandal that led to him receiving a 4-year ban from the FIA, the apparent fumbling
and subsequent breakdown of relations with ex-test rider Bradley Smith, and the very sad
passing of Fausto Gresini it just goes from bad to worse, doesn’t it? The past few years have been tough.
“In first stage of the championship, we do not want to look at the others, but just at ourselves, strengthening our undoubtedly positive trend. Aleix will have an extremely important job, leading the team and not being distracted by the frenzy of immediate results. Consistency and hard work will give him the satisfaction he deserves. Lorenzo will need to grow and learn a lot, beginning with the circuits. An extraordinary talent scout like Fausto believed very much in him, so I am confident that he will give his all to repay that trust. The team is solid, ambitious and realistic. Everyone knows that the only way to keep growing is to stay the course, taking Aprilia to the point of battling for the positions that count, even in MotoGP.”MASSIMO RIVOLA – APRILIA RACING CEO
Despite this, the Aprilia team persists with its attempts to compete in the premier class of
motorcycle racing, 2021 could be a decent year for them. The concessions give an advantage, but let’s talk riders. Aleix Espargaro retains his status as the ‘premier rider’ for his 5th year with the team, despite never taking a podium for the team. You could say the Aleix has been the only constant in the five-year project. Espargaro has seen 5 teammates during his time at Aprilia and has surprisingly out-performed all of them in terms of points. Smith, Redding, Lowes, Iannone and Savadori have all had the second Aprilia ride, and it’s hard to say that most of those riders had a good time with the team.
Can Espargaro win a race?
Espargaro is well-versed in the MotoGP paddock, being the second oldest rider on the
grid this year (behind Valentino Rossi) 2020 will be his 16th year racing at world-class
level. He is the rider who holds the unenviable record for longest career without a race win,
having never achieved one in his premier class career. Despite this and Aprilia’s poor run of
form, Espargaro seems excessively optimistic about the manufacturer’s ability this year,
targeting a top 6 finish in the World Championship, and even a podium or two which he as
promised to dedicate to the dearly departed Fausto Gresini.
“It may seem trite, but I am always emotional at the start of a new season. I’m about to begin my fifth with Aprilia, a team that has by now become my second family. In fact, I can’t wait to get back to work with them. The first contact with the new RS-GP was positive. The guys worked hard over the winter, but we still have a long way to go. We have a demanding and very busy championship ahead, where physical and mental fitness will need to be at top levels. I’m more prepared than ever.”Aleix Espargaro
A risky unproven rookie?
Alongside him will be Lorenzo Savadori, an ex-WSBK rider who will be entering his rookie
year in MotoGP. Savadori was meant to duke it out with Bradley Smith in pre-season testing
(which begins on March 6th) for the role of full-time rider. However, it would seem that relations between Aprilia and Smith broke down earlier in the year, reportedly due to Smith’s insistence in seeing himself in the role of a racing rider rather than a test rider.
“I would be remiss not to thank Aprilia for this great opportunity. I know that I have a lot to learn. It is a demanding category and still new for me. The tests and races last year gave me a chance to begin building confidence with this bike and with these tyres, but it is just a starting point with wide margins for improvement. I’ll try to transform the pain generated by the passing of Fausto, a person who believed very much in me, into positive energy. His determination and the things he taught me will accompany me in this new stage of my career.”LORENZO SAVADORI
2021 Aprilia updated aerodynamics
The new RS-GP has been designed with downforce in mind. The front-wheel aero has more
of a Ducati styling to it, in order to combat the wheelie problems they faced last year, and
hopefully, with the extra track contact, this is supposed to generate, the RS-GP will be able to
capitalise and hit faster speeds – a gripe that Aleix Espargaro has voiced numerous times
before. The team are clear that despite the aero changes, and new carbon swingarm, there are even more changes hidden under the skin.
As for 2021, this could be a year that Aprilia can capitalise on. With the other manufacturers unable to develop their machines much, Aprilia have more testing days and more access to parts than everyone else. Should they utilise this advantage well, they could catch up to their competitors as the season goes on. That is, with the field of riders so close and the riders making more of a difference than ever before, Espargaro’s determined riding style and the hunger for glory of Savadori, that podium dream, could be a reality.
Personally, Aprilia is a difficult one to analyse. With the revolving door of second riders, it’s
not easy to get a clear view of just where they need to improve. Espargaro’s grit and
determination also add to this problem – he is capable of dragging the RS-GP around a track at a very quick speed in qualifying – but how much of that is raw power, and how much
comes down to screen-biting, riding at the absolute limit?
With Fausto Gresini’s tragic death, I am truly hopeful for the Aprilia team. They have put a
touching tribute to the man on the 2021 bike, and it would be good to see his beloved team
take a podium in his memory. However, I can’t say I’m exceedingly optimistic. But that’s ok
– Aleix Espargaro surely has enough optimistic bull-headedness for both of us!
This article was written by the fantastic Rebekah Lee, our resident Motorsport nut and MA Creative writing graduate. She’s been fascinated by all things motorsports since childhood – follow her on Twitter at @bekahjlee
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